National Edition

How television stereotypes men

Published: Thursday, July 3 2014 11:34 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 3 2014 11:34 p.m. MDT

Left to right, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph in "The Honeymooners."

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Think gender stereotypes on TV are just for women? Think again, new dad Alexis C. Madrigal pointed out in a recent article for The Atlantic attacking the stereotype of the foolish sitcom father.

"While it may seem harmless to get a few cheap laughs at dads' expense, these characters, and their hilarious incompetence, form the culture backdrop for our society's larger discussion about the roles fathers play in families," Madrigal wrote.

Madrigal was writing about paternity leave in the U.S., but the larger problem is far from new: TV shows and commercials regularly portray the American dad as a dithering, witless fool to be mocked.

Discussion about the problem of gender stereotyping on television and in advertising is often confined to women — Time just recently composed a list of the worst offenders around Superbowl time, and there are many YouTube mash-ups dedicated to showcasing the most sexist ads from bygone eras.

Yet as Madrigal stated in his article, growing concern over the role of dads on TV has given way to new debate. Gender equality writers like Hanna Rosin have postured in the past that "the rules of fatherhood have changed a lot since the Honeymooners days." Still, the modern portrayals aren't ideal, Rosin said at a forum Madrigal attended on fatherhood at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

"[On TV] you put a dad in front of his kid, and the dad gives the worst advice. You put a dad in front of a toaster and he burns the house down," Madrigal quoted Rosin from the festival.

The unflattering stereotyping doesn't end with sitcoms, either. As Kandra Polatis explored recently in The Deseret News National Edition, many action and comic-book heroes leave men struggling with unrealistic body image.

The problem has led Modern Father Online blogger Darrell Milton to call fathers "the new minority group." In a post from this year, Milton argued that the absence of fathers in the media can be as damaging as the erroneous depictions — like Parents Magazine's focus on mothers.

"Last year Parents Magazine released 12 issues and 25 percent of them had mothers on them, with none having fathers on them. Traditionally one might think that a Father’s Day special would show a happy father on the cover, but no, not a single issue showcased dads," Milton wrote. "Dads are parents, too."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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